Unfit For Passengers

 

I clearly remember my first time handling an ATV, mainly because my dad and sister have never let me forget. My dad was out working on irrigation ditches, and my older sister and I were tagging along, the main benefit being that we all got to ride around on a 4wheeler. My dad has always loved to teach us how to handle new thing and situations, which led to Jenny getting a chance to learn to drive the 4wheeler, and then eventually came my opportunity. All I can remember being told was push the black throttle down, in my mind that meant push it all the way until it stops. There may have been other instructions, but at six this is all I heard. My sister is still convinced it was an attempt on her life, but what happened next was the start of my driving experiences. I pushed the throttle down as hard as I could with my little thumb, and the machine roared to life, leaving my sister and dad yelling, and hanging on for dear life as we raced forward, completely jumping an irrigation ditch. I don’t know how long it took for my dad to wrestle the steering away from me and bring us safely to a stop, probably a matter of seconds after clearing the ditch, but for a moment the wind whipped my face and I felt the thrill of power. Never mind that no one let me drive anything for a long time after, and to this day they continue to remind me of how I almost killed them on a 4wheeler. I think it was a steady piece of driving, since we jumped the ditch instead of crashing into it or flipping over. Needless to say, neither my dad or my sister offered to let me drive anything until I was old enough to go through drivers education and had learned to drive with a stranger. As it turned out, I am a decent driver in a car, no accidents or tickets, cautious, but not timid. That aspect of my driving has never been a problem, but once we moved out to Caribou Lodge, a whole new world of driving opened up to me in the form of snowmobiling (or as alaskans refer to it, snow machining.) Once again, I got to enjoy the thrill of the wind at my face and power at my fingertips. Joe is a good teacher and undaunted by my appetite for speed, of course he is sitting safely on his own machine, not clinging on behind me. Over the past year, I have learned to drive a snow machine pretty efficiently, traversing trails and the backcountry with ease. However, there seems to be a consistent hitch in my ability to drive…….passengers. The first time, I buzzed across the frozen lake with my sister in law hanging on the back, we were laughing and enjoying the ride, when suddenly as I leaned into a turn……there was a whooosh of snow pants and she was gone. I looked back to see her laughing and laying in the snow. That was only the beginning of my problem.

Recently, we had our first winter guests. While we have had our share of summer and fall guests, winter guests was a new adventure for us. As the plane dropped down onto the snow covered lake, we jumped onto our machines, with sleds in tow, to bring our new guests and their luggage back to the lodge. It all started out great, introductions and getting loaded up, the plane taking off, and then everyone got on the machines for the ride back to the lodge. I had two passengers, a father and daughter behind me, as Joe had the older son and luggage. As we tried to turn and make our way up the hill, I found the steering nearly impossible, we made a wide turn but as we headed up the hill to the lodge I felt us begin to slide sideways. As if in slow motion, we slid and the snowmachine tipped over dumping all three of us in the snow bank. As it was happening, all I could think of was the unsigned snowmachine wavers sitting on the counter in the lodge. All of us were unhurt and Joe came and helped us get the machine up and back on track and up the hill. As it turned out, our wonderful guests had a sense of humor about the whole affair, though I think they will probably be more selective about their drivers in the future.      Needless to say I have come to grips with the reality that I cannot drive passengers without dumping them off. So far, I have only one passenger who manages to stay on when I am driving, my dog Howie. Somehow, he has managed to perfect the art of riding with me, its a mystery, since he can’t actually hang on, not that it has been helpful to my other passengers. Sometimes as we bump down a rough trail, I look back at him and see him scrunched and wide eyed in the basket, other times as we fly along he leans into the wind and seems to smile. Regardless of our ride, he is always ready to go again. When we load up machines and I lay the cardboard down in the basket he climbs in and is ready for an adventure. He knows he is on his own back there, if he dumps out, he is in charge of getting back in whether I am moving or not. He also knows when things get tricky, its his job to bail out in order to stay safe. He can catch up with me and jump back into the basket while I am moving before I even know he is gone. He is the only passenger that I don’t have to worry about, he is also the only one with the necessary skills to stay on. In acknowledging the fact that I am unfit for passengers, I have decided a special insurance waver is necessary to ride with me. It will go something like this:

“ I _________________, hereby acknowledge that in selecting Bonnie Bramante as my driver, I take full responsibility of my own fate. I will be liable for any injuries sustained during my dump offs and or bail outs, as well as any sustained in my attempts to catch up and remount moving transportation. I assume full responsibility as a passenger to keep and maintain my seat and safety for the duration of the ride. I also acknowledge should other transportation be available to me, it is in my best interest to take it, as current driver is unfit for passengers.”

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Welcoming Spring

As the ice slowly fades from the lake and the willow ‘s bud, Joe and I have entered into a whirlwind of springtime preparations. Guests will begin arriving in a couple weeks, and despite the long hours of daylight we still find ourselves problem solving projects and planning as we crawl into bed at night

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For the last few weeks, we are awakened almost every morning by a robin singing in the tree outside our bedroom window. Joe thinks she sounds like a complaining old woman, I think she sounds like spring. The air seems to be a constant serenade of bird songs, the most notable is the gold crowned sparrow. Its distinct three notes can even be heard in the middle of the night. The Ptarmigan are everywhere, even Howie is loosing interest in them.

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We seem to be getting more and more visitors passing though, in one day we had a moose walk through the back yard, another moose with twins walk down by the lake, and a black bear wander onto the property. (Which Howie promptly chased away, I have never heard him sound so vicious!)

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I have been putting my limited gardening skills to the test, all the vegetable plants and flower seeds I started are coming along nicely. The dining room table has begun to look like a jungle, and I am beginning the process of getting plants moved out to the green house. My mom always loved her garden and as a kid, having had to do my share of the weeding, I hated gardening. I am now experiencing how rewarding it is to grow your own food, I love cooking with fresh herbs from my little herb garden.(A fresh lemon, basil cream sauce….yum!!!) There is a new appreciation when we sit down to a meal and we taste the fruits of our labor.

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Joe is constantly in motion, tackling projects left and right. ( I have to smile as I write this, because at the moment, he is crashed out on the couch beside me.) He got the spring line up and running, so exciting, no more hauling water for a while!!! Laundry has become a breeze! His big project this spring has been redoing the guide cabin. We have three regular guest cabins, but wanted to make the guide cabin ready for guests as well. He did such a nice job, I think its my favorite cabin now. I told him I wanted to move in there, not only does it look good, but I love the smell of wood. (Especially cedar.)

Joe insulating
Joe insulating

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We are re-staining decks, raking, leveling steps (the ground frost heaves terribly, so everything has to be straightened and leveled as it warms up), and working on the walkways. The next big project is digging a new outhouse hole.

Sanding the deck down.
Sanding the deck down.

We are trying to learn a good balance of working and playing. Its easy to spend seven days a week tackling projects, since we don’t have work hours and we live at our workplace. We have started trying to set one day aside on the weekends to relax, hike, and re-energize. During the week we try to sneak in jaunts up to bear point to glass after dinner, or to sit on the deck soaking in the sun as we eat our lunch. I am learning to savor the simple pleasures in life, the moments that suspend and become memories. A few nights ago , Joe and I were up on the hill watching two beavers, we must have watched them for an hour or more. We saw one dive down and come up with a bunch of mud and then go plop it down on its dam, watched them eat their dinner, then one of them ( I thought it looked like a boy showing off) scrambled onto the hillside and ran around in a crazed, surprisingly fast, fit of some kind. No idea what it was doing, but we both laughed so hard, and as we sat there watching them while the sun went down, I was fully aware that this is the good life. Yesterday, we saw a newborn moose calf taking its first wobbly steps, as its mother frantically tried to distract us. One day, when I am old and gray, these are the stories I will tell….. days filled with hard work and laughter, sweat and tears, tales of life in the alaskan wilderness.

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What has Howie has been up too?…..finding places to nap.
What has Howie been up too?…..finding places to nap.

Free Time?

People always ask us what we do with our free time in the winter, with tourist season over I think they imagine us spending our days sitting by the fire, reading books, and sipping coffee. Well, not to say that we don’t occasionally get to indulge in those wonderful activities, but I find there is less “free time” than I thought there would be. First off, you are a slave to weather, if it snows you shovel, (want to go the bathroom, shovel a path to the outhouse!) if the wind blows, you shovel the drifts, if it warms and the snow starts melting you shovel slush and fix trails. Then, there is getting firewood. This has always been one of my favorite activities, I have a lot of good memories of getting firewood with my dad. Its a little more fun out here, mainly because we go out with the snow machines, pulling sleds. I am finally learning how to use a chain saw!

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Also, winter is one of the best times to haul supplies in and out. Recently, we got all the new mattresses for the cabins hauled into the lodge. We had a great crew of friends and family that helped out. Joe and I have spent a lot of days on the trail the last month, between supplies and visitors, but we are so thankful to have both.

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Winter being our slow time for guests, also means its the time to repair and spruce things up for tourist season. When I sit down to make a list of what needs done for the day, I find there is always more than I can complete in one day. The most surprising thing of all about winter, I am always sore. Winter has made me use muscles I didn’t know I possessed. My left arm is sore from using the chains saw, my right arm is sore from using the axe, my neck and shoulders are sore from snowmaching on a rough trail, my back aches from shoveling, and my ribs, who knows why they are sore. This may sound like a pity party, but in truth, I love it, because I know with each new ache and pain, I am getting a little stronger. At the end of the day, when I crawl into bed, my mind and body tired, I know its been a good and productive day. Now, in case you start to think winter is some kind of hellish nightmare for us out here, let me just say, in spite of all the work, we do get to enjoy some down time. Some days when the winds howls outside, we get lost in one of our favorite activities. For Joe, it is working with wood in his shop. I used to say I wouldn’t see him all day if he didn’t have to come in from his shop for food, but here recently I noticed he took a candy jar out to his shop for snacks, so maybe I won’t see him at all! Anything Joe does, he perfects. He even sewed himself a leather apron for his wood shop. The other day he came in and informed me it needed pockets for his pencils, and he spent the evening sewing them. I am always amazed at his ability to design and create things, and his persistence in perfection.

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In my free time I am a little less practical and resourceful, I love to ramble with my dog on my snowshoes, soaking in the outdoors. I sit and scribble down my thoughts or get lost in a good book. I also love to make messes in the kitchen, trying out new recipes. As for Howie, he spends his abundant free time playing with sticks and bumming rides off people. Occasionally, he does his job and lets us know about the coyotes across the lake or that there is a snow machiner on the horizon, but mostly he hunts for sunny spots to nap or someone to scratch his belly. IMG_1333

Howie would rather ride than run, even if he gets a face full of snow.
Howie would rather ride than run, even if he gets a face full of snow.
"So, is someone going to pull this thing or what?"
“So, is someone going to pull this thing or what?”
Howie scammed a ride from his new best friend, Jake. Even got to ride in the front seat! Not sure which one is happier.
Howie scammed a ride from his new best friend, Jake. Even got to ride in the front seat! Not sure which one is happier.

Winter is passing quickly, the sun stretching a little higher each day, the birds have been singing in the bushes as if it were already spring. With each extra moment of daylight, we find another chore that can be completed before the sun goes down. IMG_1491

Dog Days

The days have shortened and the sun is hanging lower and lower, but Fall stubbornly refuses to give way to winter’s snow. As the warm weather hangs on, (warm being relative of course, the fact that it is staying above zero at night warrants a warm spell around here) I find my dog Howie sleeping in random spots around the grounds soaking up the sunshine. I can’t help but smile and think what a rough life for a dog. IMG_7485IMG_7898

When, we made the decision to move up here, I knew Howie would be in heaven. He has become such a larger than life character here at the lodge, photo bombing and entertaining guests with his tricks. I once heard a saying, “Whoever said diamonds are a girls best friend, never owned a dog” and well, I completely agree. IMG_7810Picture 121 Howie came into our lives after a long search for just the right dog, basically cheap and healthy. I grew up with black labs and Joe grew up with a German Shepherd, so we both got a little of what we wanted with Howie, who is a lab/shepherd mix. When we went to pick out a puppy, he was the last male left, while I was drawn to one of his sisters who was sweet and calm, he was a restless ball of energy, rummaging around the place with the biggest pot belly I had ever seen on a puppy. IMG_0076  IMG_0047 IMG_0075 IMG_0136_4 From the start, he was full of personality, lovable, restless and way too smart. He inherited the labs love of water and retrieving, and the German Shepherd’s vocal tendancies…. not barking, but vocal grunts and groans. He gives a clear indication of his feelings, while physically obeying, he lets out long groans that let you know he is unhappy about it. The other lab trait that he inherited is a little less pleasing, there is no other way to put it then he is a gluttonous, pig. As a puppy, I once found him splayed, all four legs out, on a pile of dog food eating, (he had ripped open the bag). Another time, he ate every single dandelion out of our yard, which at first was exciting, then he threw them all up in a disgusting pile. He occasionally sneaks into the compost pile, but he always tells on himself immediately. I look at him and he melts and slinks to his dog house, and I know he is ashamed of himself. Howie also tries to trick Joe or I into feeding him a second breakfast. Our rule is whoever heads out to the outhouse first feeds Howie breakfast, but he will try and trick the next person out by going and sitting by the shed door as if he hasnt been fed… sometimes stooping as low as to bring us his dish. Luckily, we are onto his scam, but it doesn’t  stop him from trying. Frankly, not once in his five years have we ever forgotten to feed him, he would never let that happen.

"Did you forget something?"
“Did you forget something?”

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In October, Howie turned five years old, sometimes I think he will never grow up or slow down. His energy is endless, even as a puppy we taught him to run on a treadmill because we could never wear him down. On hikes he is always ready to go further, he will play fetch until he falls over (literally), runs along side when we bike, and will catch anything you throw at him for as long as you want. He has never been one to wander or run away, he loves spending time with us and there is no such thing as “personal space” when he is around. When, I am sitting up on “Bear Point” glassing for animals, he tries to get as much of himself touching me as possible, at times getting tangled in the straps from my binoculars. He shamelessly uses me to block the wind for him, but I let him since his black coat provides an extra bit of warmth.

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Owning a dog like Howie has been a lot of work, but his unconditional love has rewarded us a thousand times over. I am greeted with excitement everytime I walk out the door. He is convinced that something wonderful is about to happen, even when all I do is walk to the outhouse. He is gentle and kind, loves everyone, and never tires of hugs and affection. Howie is quirky and his antics fill us with laughter. Life in the bush, at times, can be harsh and cold, tiring and mundane, but Howie’s constant enthusiasim reminds me life is an adventure and you never know what lies around the corner.

He still lets Joe pick him up like this….only he is a lot heavier now!
He still lets Joe pick him up like this….only he is a lot heavier now!

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On days, when it is quiet and lonliness starts to creep in he slips his nose into my hand as I walk or rests his head on my shoulder and the world is a warmer place. Some may prefer the cold, brilliant sparkle of diamonds, but as for me I prefer the warmth of my dog’s copper eyes. IMG_2482